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A New Voice Arising
By Cathy Kolb, Statewide President of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Ideas matter.
In Tennessee, we have never been accused of failing to generate ideas. In education, the debate has often been stymied at both the local and state level. Suppression of ideas or free speech should not be the cornerstone of any child-focused education policy. That is why a new voice is arising for educators across the state, and where reasoned debate is welcome.

Peter Drucker stated: "The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday's logic." Although value added assessment is very much thriving in Tennessee and across the nation, other ideas such as merit pay--in the form of a career ladder program or any attempt to move to a differentiated pay scale have ultimately been gradually rolled back or stopped in their tracks in our state.

Teachers, as well as parents, policymakers and taxpayers, are hungering for an authentic voice that is intellectually honest in the education arena. They have grown weary of the "union mentality" which is harmful to innovation and improvement throughout our public schools. They want a voice that makes a positive difference in the lives of educators and in the lives of schoolchildren. Our organization, Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET), is working closely with legislators to have our members' voices heard. Unfortunately, some teachers have never even heard of our organization.

Our staff is present at the state capitol during the legislative session in order to provide information on education and retirement issues to members, as well as to make sure our members' ideas and concerns become the priorities of Tennessee legislators. We do this in a professional manner by working with legislators regardless of political party affiliation and without union style strong arm tactics. Those tactics make it understandable why some legislators may believe changes are needed or a ban on political payroll deductions may further the state's interest in separating the operations of government from partisan politics.

More critical to our organization are the exclusivity provisions found in collective bargaining agreements that have effectively silenced too many voices in our schools, including those of fellow teachers who are not union members. Through collective bargaining the union gains use of facilities, faculty meetings, access to teachers, communications, and even board meetings to the exclusion of others.

As a professional association, PET believes it takes everyone working together to improve Tennessee public schools. But the teachers' union only wants their voice heard and is only interested in an agenda that benefits them. The key difference is that PET is a democratically run association, relying on input from our members here in Tennessee. We are not reliant upon a Washington DC teacher union with an out of touch political and social agenda to determine our goals or objectives. That is another key reason that the exclusivity of teachers unions is intrinsically unfair, not only to our members--but to other teachers, taxpayers, parents and policymakers at every level.

It is an unreasonable practice for a taxpayer funded employer or entity to interfere, restrain or coerce employees in the exercise of their rights to join or potentially join a competing organization. In this regard, a public employer which knowingly provides a teacher union with use of its facilities or internal mail for an organizational campaign should also be required to make those accommodations uniformly available to a competing organization. State government must ensure that local school districts provide equal opportunity to all organizations and that their policies do not otherwise violate the mandate for neutrality. Public entities should not be in the business of silencing voices and teachers should be treated as professionals.

It is in the public interest to provide statutory checks on the excessive power progressively attained by the teachers' union, especially at times with a financial strain on local budgets. Does that mean that doing away with current Professional Negotiations law is in the best interest of teachers? Not necessarily. But it is fair to acknowledge that a union's ability to bargain with the government is a statutory right, not constitutional right.

There is great confidence by many teachers across the state that Tennessee lawmakers will ultimately study the issue and reach a fair and appropriate conclusion. Hopefully all legislators can reach universal agreement that whatever legislation ultimately comes out of Nashville the principles we espouse will establish a peaceful, stable employer-employee relationship; protection of the rights of ALL teachers to be members of the organization of their choice with equal access; protection of the right of the taxpayer through their elected representatives to control government policy and the cost of government; and, governmental services will be provided in the most efficient and orderly manner possible. There is a new voice for students and teachers rising across Tennessee: Professional Educators of Tennessee. Now you have heard.

Cathy Kolb is the President of Professional Educators of Tennessee. She teaches in Clarksville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint this article in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Professional Educators of Tennessee are properly cited. For more information contact Crystal Barker, Director of Communications at